When Janet Thomas presented to Mildura Base Hospital in the afternoon of 21 May 2013 with her granddaughter, 19-month-old Bridgett Currah, she expected that Bridgett would be admitted and kept overnight for monitoring. So sure was Ms Thomas that she made arrangements for Bridgett’s clothing and formula to be delivered to the hospital.

Inadequate care by pediatrician

At the time that Bridgett was taken to hospital she was suffering from gastroenteritis which exacerbated her gastroesophageal reflux disease. Ms Thomas feared that Bridgett’s persistent vomiting was causing her to become dehydrated. To Ms Thomas this was particularly worrying as Bridgett suffered from heart disease and Ms Thomas had previously been informed by Bridgett’s doctors that dehydration, in combination with her heart disease, could prove fatal.

Tragically, it appears that the fragility of Bridgett’s situation was not appreciated by the doctors that assessed Bridgett. Bridgett was not admitted and was sent home. At 5:00 am the following morning, Bridgett was found by Ms Thomas in her cot with her eyes open, not breathing and with froth around her mouth. Despite Ms Thomas’ best efforts to resuscitate Bridgett, she could not be revived.

In February 2017 an inquest was held into Bridgett’s death and on 16 March 2017, Deputy NSW Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan handed down her findings. The Coroner criticised hospital staff for their “inadequate” observations of Bridgett at the time of her presentation to hospital and determined that there was a “compelling case” for Bridgett to have been admitted to hospital overnight. Continuing, the Coroner found that:

Because of her fragility and vulnerability and the evidence of moderate dehydration, she faced real, appreciable risks of morbidity and mortality which would have been best managed in a hospital setting.

The Coroner’s findings were also critical of the pediatrician, Dr Chellam Kirubakaran, who declared that Bridgett was appropriate for discharge. In evidence given by Dr Kirubakaran at the inquest, Dr Kirubakaran alleged that she reviewed Bridgett on the night of 21 May 2013 and that after reviewing Bridgett, she advised Ms Thomas that Bridgett needed to remain in hospital overnight. On the evidence of Dr Kirubakaran, it was only because Ms Thomas pleaded with her to take Bridgett home that Dr Kirubakaran gave the recommendation that Bridgett be discharged.

Contrary to Dr Kirubakaran’s evidence, the Coroner found that Dr Kirubakaran did not review Bridgett when she claimed to have reviewed her and that Dr Kirubakaran declared Bridgett appropriate for discharge after she was told of Bridgett’s symptoms by telephone. The Coroner did not accept Dr Kirubakaran’s evidence to the effect that Ms Thomas had desired to take Bridgett home. Ultimately, the Coroner recommended Dr Kirubakaran be trained on the importance of keeping current and accurate clinical notes.

In a statement released by the family following the handing down of the Coroner’s findings, they expressed their hope that the Coroner’s recommendations will be implemented so as to ensure a similar event does not occur in the future.

Turn to Turner Freeman

Unfortunately, all too often we see cases in which due regard is not given to the severity or fragility of one’s medical situation. Often, by the time the severity of an illness or condition presents itself, the opportunity for successful intervention has passed. At Turner Freeman we have lawyers who specialise in medical negligence claims. If you or someone you know has suffered as a result of medical negligence, including a situation in which the severity of one’s condition was not properly appreciated, we encourage you to call 13 43 63 to speak with one of our medical law experts today.